Willard Badgett Gatewood, Jr., the son of Willard B. and Bessie Pryor Gatewood, was born on February 23, 1931, on a tobacco farm in the community of Blackwell on the Park Springs Road in Caswell County, North Carolina. He attended elementary grades at Cobb Memorial School and in 1949 graduated from George Washington High School in Danville, Virginia. He entered Duke University that fall and received the Bachelor of Arts degree (Phi Beta Kappa) in 1953. Remaining at Duke for graduate study, he received the Master of Arts degree the following year and the Doctor of Philosophy degree in 1957, both in the field of United States history.
Dr. Gatewood began his college teaching career at East Tennessee State University in 1957, followed by appointments to the history faculties of East Carolina University, North Carolina Wesleyan College, and the University of Georgia. At Georgia he received the Michael Research Award and the Joseph Parks Award for Excellence in Teaching. He directed ten Ph.D. dissertations while at Georgia.
In 1970 Dr. Gatewood was appointed the first Alumni Distinguished Professor of History at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, a chair endowed by the Arkansas Alumni Association that he occupied until his retirement in 1998. During his tenure there, he served as a member and/or chair of numerous departmental, college, and university committees; was the co-founder of the University of Arkansas Press; served as Chancellor of the University in 1984-85; taught hundreds of undergraduate and graduate students; and supervised twenty-five Ph.D. dissertations and numerous master's theses. He received the ODK Teacher of the Year Award in 1978-79, the university's Distinguished Research Award in 1980, and the Chancellor's Medal for Distinguished Service in 1994. During his tenure at Arkansas he was elected president of the Southern Historical Association; served as a member of the Board of Directors of the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation and the Arkansas Humanities Council; directed two NEH summer seminars; was a member of nine annual NEH Review panels; and was consultant for five documentary films.
During his academic career, Dr. Gatewood was the author, co-author, or editor of fourteen books, including a two-volume college level American history textbook, as well as more than 75 articles in historical journals. His works received a number of awards and prizes, and his Aristocrats of Color: The Black Elite, 1880-1920 was nominated for the National Book Award.
Dr. Gatewood lives in Fayetteville, Arkansas, with his wife, the former Mary Lu Brown, a native of Elizabethton, Tennessee. They have two children -- Willard III (Bill) and Elizabeth Ellis Stroud -- and five grandchildren.